Matt. 21:23-37; Psalm 1
How dare you come into this sacred place? How dare you claim to heal the blind and the lame? How dare you vandalize this holy place, throwing tables onto the floor, with money flying in every direction?
How dare you – who are you anyway? You’re a nobody from Nazareth of all places. How dare you? And then the really telling question. Where does your authority come from? The chief priests and elders know where their authority was from: They had the legal qualifications to prove it. But what about Jesus? He had no documents – no legal qualifications. You’ve got no authority.
But he did. And it was recognized constantly. Earlier in Matthew, at the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, we read, “the crowd was astonished by his teaching because he taught them as one having authority – and not like the scribes.” (Matt. 7:28)
The scribes’ authority came out of books – but Jesus’ authority came from somewhere else. The very word “authority” in the Greek, exousia, literally means “out of one’s being or essence.” Jesus’ authority came from his very being – from deep within. And the people recognized it. The English word “authority” has the same root as “authentic.” There was something authentic about Jesus’ teaching – it was profoundly true. And when Jesus spoke from his very being, those words had the power to touch the very being of another person and change them. It was as in the ancient Latin phrase cor ad cor loquitur – heart speaking to heart. When Jesus looked at another person, he seemed to know the secrets of their hearts. As the Samaritan woman at the well said, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!” (Jn. 4:29)
So where did Jesus get this authority, this authenticity, the access to the deepest truth about another person? It seems to me, that the source of Jesus’ authority was his profound relationship with his Father. All through the Gospels, like the ringing of a great bell, there is a regular refrain: Jesus’ need to spend time alone with his Father in prayer. After a day of healing the sick, “very early in the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” (Mk. 1:35) After feeding the 5,000, “he went up the mountain by himself to pray.” (Matt. 14:23) “Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives.” (Lk. 21:37)
We always focus on all the remarkable things that Jesus did in the Gospels: his teaching, his healings, and miracles. But all that he did was underpinned by long hours in prayer. That was the source of his authority and his power. And that can be true for us as well. Our Psalm this evening is Psalm 1 and it says that if we are wise, we shall be “like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither.”
As I was reading and praying with this Psalm, I looked out of the window of my cell and saw those mighty sycamore trees planted along the Charles River. They are bare now, but in the Spring I know that the beautiful leaves will grow again. They will “bear fruit” because the trees have put their roots deep into the ground, to drink from the streams of water. We don’t see the roots; we see the fruits. We don’t see Jesus praying, but we see the fruits. The life of the tree is dependent on those deep unseen roots. The life of Jesus was dependent on that life-giving relationship with his Father.
Our life, in the same way, is dependent on the deep roots which we put down into God. Advent is a good time for serious and honest self-examination. How faithful am I to my times of prayer? Of meditation? Of dwelling on and drinking in God’s word?
If we put down our roots deeply into God’s word, and drink deeply of God’s Spirit, our whole lives can be transformed. We can live lives with more authority. Spending time with God, dwelling in God’s Spirit, helps us to make right choices in our lives, to become more authentically who we were made by God to be.
When I reflect on what it must have been like to stand in front of Jesus, to be seen by Jesus – I think it was an experience of being seen with great clarity. He was so perfectly the person he was created to be, so profoundly authentic, that he saw and spoke with perfect authority.
I am sure that we can each become more and more the person God made us to be if we spend time each day in God’s presence. But it’s more and more difficult to go deeper in our contemporary world. As our Rule puts it “Powerful forces are bent on separating us from God, our own souls and one another through the din of noise and the whirl of preoccupation. Technology has intensified our risk of being saturated with stimuli.”
There is so much information, entertainment, distractions. In many ways the curse of our contemporary world is superficiality. But if we follow Jesus, early in the morning, to a quiet place, or at night, at the end of the day, to be alone with our heavenly Father, and put down our roots into living water, we will discover a new authenticity, and be empowered to live and speak with authority.
So much of our lives are spent flitting over the surface – moving from one stimulus to another – often saturated with stimuli from the TV, radio, internet or iPod. This holy season of Advent gives us a wonderful opportunity to go deep – to become quiet, to drink deep drafts of God’s life-giving, refreshing spirit – to be still and know that I am God.
So, this evening, as you come to receive our Lord in bread and wine, bring your thirst to him: your desire to put down your dry roots into the deep wells of God’s spirit. Hear again Jesus’ promise to each of us: “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. For out of your heart shall flow streams of living water.” (Jn. 7:37)
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